What You Need to Know About Filing Taxes Jointly

Your taxes probably weren’t part of your decision to get married—but if you’re married, why not use that to your advantage on your taxes? You have the opportunity to file your taxes jointly as a couple, which could come with some benefits. Make sure you understand the implications of filing jointly and what it could mean for your taxes.

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What Does Filing Taxes Jointly Mean?

“Married Filing Jointly” is one of the five official tax filing statuses. The others are Qualifying Widow(er), Head of Household, Single, and Married Filing Separately. The Married Filing Jointly status is the only one that involves two people being listed as tax filers on the return.  

Who Can File Federal Tax Returns Jointly?

You and your spouse can only file a joint tax return in certain situations. The IRS defines “married tax payers” as two people who meet one of these requirements:

  • Were officially married and living together during the tax year
  • Meet the requirements for common law marriage in their state for the tax year
  • Were married and living apart during the tax year but were not legally separated

Surviving spouses may also file jointly with their spouse if they passed away during the tax year they are filing for.

Are There Tax Credits for Filing Jointly?

There aren’t special tax credits for those filing jointly just because they’re filing as a married couple. However, the IRS does take into account that two people are filing, so it offers some higher deduction and credit options for married couples. 

For example, for 2021 tax returns, people filing Single have a standard deduction of $12,550. Couples who are married and filing jointly can benefit from a standard deduction of $25,100—even if only one of them works and has an income.

There are also some tax credits you can’t get if you’re married and file separately that you might qualify for if you’re married and file jointly. These include education credits, the child and dependent care credit, and the earned income credit

Other Potential Benefits of Filing Jointly

Another possible benefit of filing jointly is that you may benefit from higher thresholds on income. For example, you hit the 32% tax bracket if you earn more than $164,925 in taxable income per year. But as a married couple filing jointly, you have to hit more than $329,850 in taxable income to be in that tax bracket. That’s true even if only one of you works and has an income, so one of you could make a very high salary and you as a couple remain in a lower tax bracket.

Questions to Ask Your Spouse when Filing Jointly

Couples who combine their finances in any way benefit from open communication about those finances. And as a married couple filing jointly, good communication is key to ensuring you are filing your taxes legally and intelligently. Here are some questions you need to ask your spouse to ensure your return is accurate and decide whether filing jointly is your best option.

  • Is all the income on the table? As a married couple, you may or may not buy into the “what’s yours is mine” tradition, but tax time isn’t when you want to hold income cards too closely. Make sure you both are presenting all W-2s, 1099s, and other forms showing income from sources like investments. If you don’t report all your income, it could come back to haunt you both in the form of an audit or money owed to the IRS.
  • Can someone else claim dependents—and are they? If either of you have children from before the marriage, you must know whether someone else will claim those children on their tax return. Dependents can’t be claimed more than once, so sort out those details before you file.
  • Is anyone behind on tax, student loan, child support, or alimony payments? These delinquencies can put any tax return at risk. The person or agency owed may have gotten an order that allows them to take tax return money to cover the debt owed. That’s something you want to be aware of before you file so you’re not waiting on a refund that never comes.

Does Filing Jointly Affect Your Credit Score?

Taxes don’t impact your credit score directly, which means that filing jointly won’t affect your credit score either. The only way taxes may impact your score is if you don’t pay what you owe and end up in hot water with the IRS. In that case, they still don’t directly impact your score. But you may need to take out loans, miss other payments, or make financial decisions that let you cover the taxes at the expense of your score. 

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How Do You File Jointly?

To file your taxes jointly, you simply select the status of Married Filing Jointly and enter information about yourself and your spouse.

We’re not tax professionals ourselves, and this article is purely informational. Turn to tax services and professionals for advice if you’re not sure how to file or need help maximizing your refund.

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